Malcom Gladwell in his book ‘The Tipping point” delves into the dynamics of social epidemics. Even though it was written in the year 2000, it reveals pertinent issues which are crucial in propagating the spread of ideas and messages among populations. Gladwell (2000) reveals the three rules of epidemics. These laws include: the law of the few where few people are responsible for the outcome of an event for example the 80/20 rule where 80 percent of work is done by 20% of the people; the Stickiness factor which involves how you can construct a communication so that it can be remembered to create an impact and lastly the power of context which articulates that human beings can be to a great extent more sensitive to their surroundings than they actually realize.
The law of the few
This is where the success of social epidemics greatly relies on the connection of people with a specific and exceptional set of social skills. These people, called the connectors, have an extraordinary gift of getting people together. They are responsible for word of mouth epidemics because they are acquainted with a large number of people, and they occupy many different worlds, subcultures and niches. Through being familiar with many people, they gain access to the most recent things wherever they come up. They also collect information through solving their individual troubles and emotional needs; and as they do so, they also solve other people’s problems, giving them the name of mavens.
The stickiness factor
This involves constructing a communication in such a way that it can have an impact. Skilful teaching and learning is interactive involving repetition and active involvement. In epidemics, the content of the message and the messenger delivering the message constitute the quality of stickiness and matter a lot in making a message to spread. The content of the message has to be crafted in such a way that makes it memorable and sticks in someone’s mind and compels them to act. The law of the few works hand in with the stickiness factor and says that there are exceptional people capable of starting epidemics and all that needs to be done is to find them.
The power of context
In the power of context, epidemics are responsive to the environment and surroundings in which they occur. The broken windows theory, which is an epidemic theory of crime, articulates that crime is infectious and can spread to a whole population. The power of context and the broken windows theory are the same and are both based on the principle that an epidemic can be inverted by fiddling with the tiniest details of the immediate surroundings. In the power of context small intimate groups have the power to amplify the epidemic prospective of a communication or concept.
As an agent of change the first lesson of the tipping point is that effecting change through a word of mouth epidemic requires only a few effective people who are connectors, mavens and salesmen. Resources have to be concentrated on these three groups. This is called the band aid solution which is highly cost effective, handy and remarkably multipurpose solution to a great number of troubles. It involves solving a challenge with the least amount of resources which may include effort, time and cost.
The second lesson is that how a message is packaged and the way it is delivered will determine whether it will be acceptable or not. The messenger delivering the message also has an influence on how receptive the message will be and whether it will have the desired effect.
The other lesson is that change is possible and that people can drastically change their manners and values in the face of the right kind of motivation. We are strongly affected by our immediate surrounding and the character of those in our vicinity. When we control the size of a unit we can significantly improve its receptivity to new concepts .Modifying the way information is delivered can significantly improve its stickiness. And finally locating those few influential people who hold a lot of social power can change the direction of social epidemics.
The above lessons are very important in designing messages that will be effective in transforming communities and in delivering interventions that will be sustainable. The few influential people in such communities should also be located for the interventions to be successful. If the people do not buy into the new message being planned to be delivered then, the message will not be received easily by the community.
The tipping point helps us to realize the most critical factors which make change in communities successful; whether it is in the form of a new intervention or in arresting the spread of a new disease by reversing those factors that are propagating its spread.
Gladwell, M., 2001. The Tipping Point. London: Abacus.